With increasing use of smart phones and tablets, parents expect to immediately find out where their child or their child’s bus is at any given moment, for the sake of security and convenience. Meanwhile, school transportation managers need to access bus and student location information within seconds, not only for planning purposes, such as routing and reimbursement, but also to put parents’ minds at ease or alert them in an emergency situation.
As a result, suppliers of GPS and student tracking systems told SBF they are seeing an increased need for even more accessibility of student ridership tracking information and are responding with real-time arrival information through apps and video; customizable alerts and vehicle parameters; planning versus actual views; and tablets on board buses.
“The common scenario is mom or dad gets home, Johnny’s not there. Their first instinct is that Johnny never got off the bus,” says Ted Thien, senior vice president and general manager of Versatrans. “Student ridership technology can help that school district answer that question quicker.”
Rob Scott, president of 247 Security, says GPS solutions have advanced in two ways over the last few years: There is more live data available for different activities on the bus — if doors are open, lights are flashing, brakes are depressed, how long the bus stopped — and that data can now often travel as fast as the vehicle at any given time.
TouchDown Fleet Video & Data Management System combines video and GPS to collect real-time visuals and data on bus locations and activities.
247 can also deploy its GPS service as a passive solution, collecting data without transmitting it in real time, to provide a more cost-effective historical record of the vehicle’s activity, including video, Scott says.
The passive solution can tell a school district where their buses traveled, idled and stopped without any monthly cellular fee, since the data is not transmitted in real time.
“It’s very economical compared to a real-time solution,” Scott explains. “It provides about 90% of the functionality that a real-time solution provides.”
In historical mode — for example, a district wants to know what happened last Tuesday at 2 p.m. — TouchDown can identify what the vehicle was doing at that time and show the related video.
To upgrade to a real-time tracking solution for live views, 247 simply adds a cell modem to let customers track and look into vehicles live through the onboard cameras, which can be particularly helpful in emergencies, Scott says.
Additionally, fleet or transportation managers can import GPS data and overlay it in route planning systems to compare actual versus planned activity.
MotoTrax is a full-service source, providing live GPS tracking and views, automatic vehicle location and health status reporting, routing, driver tracking and student tracking, says Richie Howard, president and CEO of AngelTrax.
MotoTrax lets clients stream live video from vehicles for real-time insight into vehicle operations and events. Additionally, DVR settings can be instantly adjusted, from vehicle IDs to camera settings.
If a problem is detected, a DVR health alert is immediately sent to MotoTrax so the district can quickly address any issue, saving downtime.
MotoTrax also features dynamic event organization, enabling the client to generate a range of specialized reports from collected data using the software’s tabular, searchable format.
MotoTrax now also includes routing and direction features and can easily be added to any AngelTrax product, Howard says.
“We continue to add features to MotoTrax,” he adds. The beauty of that is each module we add doesn’t cost the client any additional money. Once they decide to come aboard Mototrax and we add a feature, they get it.”
EDULOG is a one-stop shop for everything transportation-related, including student tracking and enrollment projections, says Jason Corbally, president of EDULOG.
In addition to supplying real-time tracking information to assist in routing and maintenance planning, EduTracker GPS tracking software also helps make sense of data, with its ability to automatically compare planned data with live data. EduTracker, combined with EDULOG’s Student Tracking software program, with a swipe of an RFID card, provides student ridership information and quick notification if a student boards the wrong bus, gets off at the wrong stop or fails to board the bus.
Customers can add EDULOG’s Student Tracking and/or Parent Portal to EduTracker to further enhance their systems.
The Parent Portal links to GPS tracking to enable parents and guardians to see which bus their child needs to catch, where it is and what time they will be picked up, according to EDULOG. When integrated with EDULOG’s Student Tracking, parents and guardians can also see when their child boards and exits the school bus.
Additionally, the supplier offers a laundry list of applications for tablets, including navigation, time and attendance, and real-time student tracking, Corbally says.
Observer Management System (OMS) software is a complete back-end solution that complements Safety Vision’s Observer series of DVRs. OMS allows school transportation officials to gain valuable insights into bus driver actions, allowing for higher efficiency, increased accountability and improved child safety. Features available to achieve these goals include in-depth metadata reporting, historical GPS mapping and real-time viewing.
“OMS provides extensive driver reports with in-depth information including speed, idle time and numerous other bus events,” says Chris Beard, account executive for Safety Vision. “For example, OMS provides DVR system Health Status Reports, including possible camera or hard drive storage issues. These and other alerts may be automatically emailed to clients in real time.”
OMS also provides a complete historical GPS mapping of bus routes. “School systems may benefit from geo-fencing parameters on the map for a specific bus,” Beard says. “OMS will send alerts if the bus travels outside of the predefined area.”
OMS also supports “Live-Look-In,” Safety Vision’s real-time video viewing feature. Select an active bus from the vehicle list to watch the actions of the bus driver and the students. This feature is also available through the OMS app on Android or iOS-based devices.
In addition to tracking student ridership for administrators and parents, SMART tag helps bus drivers easily manage student information from names to medical needs, says Brett Taylor, product manager for Secured Mobility.
SMART tag enables drivers to quickly view on a tablet student information, including a photo and a profile with the student’s name, assigned seat and stop, and medical information, which is particularly helpful for special-needs buses. For example, if a student has a medical event, the driver can tap on the button for information on how to help the student, Taylor says.
Customizable to fit a school district’s procedures, the driver is alerted by visual and audible cues if a student tries to board the wrong bus, get off at the wrong stop or is suspended from riding the bus.
A driver can manually load a student’s information if they forget their RFID card, Taylor says, for an accurate student ridership count. The driver taps on the tablet screen and views a list of the students that are assigned to that stop.
To enhance security, SMART tag can also show the driver a list of approved parents or guardians for students to be released to.
Busfinder, an integrated module to Transfinder’s Routefinder Pro school bus routing software suite, continuously analyzes bus events such as stops, idling, hard brakes, hard accelerations and stop-arm deployment, as well as other engine diagnostic data, says Antonio Civitella, Transfinder president and CEO. Events trigger emails and reports based on exceptions.
Busfinder lets customers compare actual data with planned routes for more informed decision-making; maintain maps using GPS data points even before county maps are updated; analyzes and adjusts driving paths and stop times; and establishes a series of alerts to track variances in paths, speed and time.
“If anything out of the ordinary happens, Busfinder will keep you informed via electronic notification,” Civitella says.
Customers can set parameters for notifications for several driving variances, for example, to see how far away from a planned stop a bus actually stopped; if it was early or late to the stop; or receive an alert if the bus’ speed was 10 mph or more above the posted speed limit.
Busfinder works with any GPS company and any attendance technology, Civitella adds.
Versatrans Onscreen tracks buses and student ridership for easy, accurate recordkeeping of state reimbursement formulas in many states, says Versatrans’ Thien.
The GPS software quickly provides a one-stop shop view into real-time data on bus locations, and where students boarded and exited the bus for parents and school administrators.
For planning assistance, the software presents routing plans in real time and compares them to actual activity, such as bus locations and speed, and at which stops the students boarded and exited.
“It allows the school district to understand, in real time, what’s going on [in relation] to the plan,” Thien explains.
Versatrans Onscreen can also operate in a kiosk mode on an LED monitor in the routing or dispatch office so the transportation office can track bus activity in real time, he adds.
Additionally, Versatrans My Stop, a free app for school districts that own the Versatrans product suite, allows parents to see where the bus is in comparison to the scheduled time for their student.
Slated for late April, Tyler Technologies’ next release is push notifications through the My Stop app to notify parents of bus arrival information.
The Z Pass student ridership tracking system with RFID technology makes collecting student ridership information quick and easy, and provides a wide variety of useful data for schools and parents, says Craig Kahoun, vice president of public markets for Zonar Systems. After the student passes a card reader with their Z Pass card, the system collects and logs the boarding time, data and location.
Zonar has a patent (6,502,030) that covers a web-based system for tracking passengers, such as students, on vehicles, such as school buses, company officials say. That patent discloses equipping a school bus with a wireless GPS system and a passenger ID device (such as a bar code reader, a magnetic card reader or an RFID card reader), and communicating location and passenger ID to a remote computer so the passenger status can be shared via a network (such as the Internet).